When the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a lower court decision to overturn California’s Proposition 8 — as it almost certainly will — it will be a victory not only for gays and lesbians, who will once again have the right to marry in California, but for heterosexual women, as well.
In fact, if Proposition 8 is permanently overturned and gay marriage wins a foothold in this country, it might do what religious conservatives will never be able to do — save heterosexual marriage.
Although the text of the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling will revolve around same-sex couples and their right to marry like heterosexual couples, the subtext is all about gender.
Federal District Court Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker, the conservative judge who struck down California’s gay marriage ban, exposed this subtext brilliantly in his controversial decision this past August.
Walker first recounts the arguments both for and against Proposition 8, noting that those who oppose gay marriage include among their reasons the fact that men and women produce children together and that marriage helps to control sexuality and “filiation.” In other words, those who oppose gay marriage believe that marriage is intended for the controlled expression of sexuality and for making babies.
Walker then pokes holes in this argument — not a difficult thing to do.
“The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry,” writes Walker in his ruling. “Rather, the exclusion exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and marriage. That time has passed. … Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.”
Sing me a love song! For many young women, those are beautiful words. In the span of a couple of generations, we’ve gone from a culture in which gender was destiny to one in which the roles a women plays in her life can be shaped by choice. For us, marriage must be a union of equals — or forget about it.
Long gone are the days of Father Knows Best, where Dad was the undisputed head of the household and Mom was his meek help-meet, bearing children and baking pies. Nowadays, women do pretty much every job men do. Most hold jobs, some earning more than their husbands. Most become mothers, some without marrying. And more women are actively choosing not to have children at all.
If children are optional in heterosexual marriages and women and men play interchangeable roles in the household and in society, then what, Walker asks, is the basis for denying same-sex couples the right to marry? In the reality of this social landscape, Proposition 8 supporters are simply pushing their own moral-religious agenda on others, Walker argues.
“Proponents’ asserted state interests in tradition are nothing more than tautologies and do not amount to rational bases for Proposition 8,” he writes.
So what does this have to do with heterosexual women?
Although women have made great strides on the career front, marriage remains an area of unhappiness for so many women. Women initiate an estimated 75 to 80 percent of divorces, a statistic that has remain steady since the introduction of no-fault divorce.
What’s at the root of this? Statistics show it’s not spousal abuse or infidelity. It’s unhappiness with the experience of marriage.
In dual-career marriages, men on average do less than half as much childcare and housework as their working wives. So while women are escaping the “gender as destiny” trap in other areas of their lives, on the home front, they’re too often roped into the roles their grandmothers played — even after an exhausting day at work.
Those who oppose gay marriage want to uphold an institution which, in its traditional form, too often fails women. By redefining marriage as a bond between consenting adults, rather than just malefemale couples, a ruling against Proposition 8 would obliterate those notions where they concern gender, transforming marriage, at least on paper, from an institution that far too many women find burdensome into what it should be — a partnership of equals.